Kurt Verlin
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Will Honda Come Back to F1?

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Sergio Perez at the Formula One 2021 Mexican Grand Prix
Photo: Honda

Honda left Formula 1 at the end of the 2021 season right as it finally found success, having powered Max Verstappen to the drivers’ world championship title. Had it stayed around, the Japanese manufacturer would have enjoyed even more success, as both Red Bull Racing and Verstappen are running away with the 2022 season and are expected to continue being competitive for the next few years.

A large part of RBR’s current success has been credited to Honda, even though technically the team’s cars are now powered by the new Red Bull Powertrains. However, the RBP engines are still designed, assembled, and supported across race weekends by Honda, and this will continue to be the case through 2025.

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The arrangement works because of a development freeze that prevents all teams from improving their engines until 2026, when new engine regulations kick in. Red Bull intends to use this time to become a fully-fledged engine manufacturer. It has so far hired top engineering talent (and poached a few notable employees from rival teams) as well as set up a new factory, determined as it is to become a truly independent constructor. According to RBR team boss Christian Horner, RBP already has its first V6 on the test bench — one designed “entirely by ourselves.”

However, asking any organization to build a world-class F1 engine in just four years, while starting from scratch, is a tall order. RBR attempted to partner with Porsche to aid in this endeavor, but negotiations faltered as the German automaker attempted to secure a majority stake in Red Bull Technologies, the race team’s parent company.

“Porsche might have made sense,” said Horner. “But it would have significantly changed the identity and integrity of our team. In the future, we will be the only team besides Ferrari that builds the car and engine on the same site. It’s the next chapter in our F1 history.”

Following the breakdown of the Porsche deal, RBR team consultant Helmut Marko said he would be flying to Japan for talks with Honda. It’s notable that after the Japanese manufacturer announced it would be pulling out of the sport last year, managing director Masashi Yamamoto had said he expects Honda to come back once the company achieves its carbon neutrality goal — and he’s not alone.

“Formula 1 is the top motorsports category, so we are always watching what is happening,” said Koji Watanabe, president of Honda Racing Corporation, this summer. “I don’t know the exact timeframe. But if we want to return to F1 in 2026, probably we need to decide within a year and a half.”

Audi has already confirmed it would join F1 from 2026, which it did shortly after the new regulations were locked in. F1 is an elite sport, but having more manufacturers involved would be a breath of fresh air. And it would be a shame for Honda to stay out while Red Bull Racing continues to win races and championships with engines that are little more than rebranded Honda units.